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The digital-first healthcare provider Babylon has confirmed plans to expand its NHS GP at Hand service to Manchester in early 2020.
It is set to open its first clinic in the city at the start of next year after formally notifying commissioners later this month.
The BMA has warned the move will spark concerns among GPs in Manchester about the stability of general practice in the area.
Earlier this year, Babylon extended its NHS service to Birmingham, despite the local CCG objecting to the proposals. The decision to approve the application was down to commissioners in London, where GP at Hand is registered.
Informal conversations with London commissioners
Speaking to our sister publication Pulse, Babylon’s managing director of NHS services, Paul Bate, confirmed the company has now started the process of applying to open a physical premises in Manchester, by having informal conversations with London commissioners.
He said: ‘Our aim is to be live in the first calendar quarter of 2020 but safety comes first and we’ll work with commissioners and other providers to make sure it’s a safe service we always offer.
‘People across Manchester will be able to choose an NHS general practice that is available 24/7, 365 days a year and supports the ability to receive healthcare in the way they want to and works around their lives.’
Mr Bate said Babylon intended to formally notify Hammersmith and Fulham CCG in London – and commissioners in Manchester – by the end of the month.
As part of the GMS regulations, commissioners will have 28 days to review Babylon’s notification before deciding whether they object.
Work closely with Manchester PCNs
GP at Hand, which has patients registered from across the country, has formed its own primary care network in London – as a ‘temporary arrangement’ according to NHS England – despite criticism among GPs that this flouts requirements for PCNs to serve local populations.
Asked whether patients registering with GP at Hand in Manchester will be part of the company’s PCN in London, Mr Bate said: ‘We’ll work closely with the PCNs in Manchester. This year the PCN that covers GP at Hand is London based.
‘We don’t expect that to stay forever and we will have a local presence in Manchester just as we do in Birmingham and London and any city. In each case, we’ll work with them as a part of the local PCN just like any other practice’
Local practices will be ‘concerned’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Practices across Manchester will no doubt be concerned about what this latest GP at Hand expansion will mean for them and the stability of general practice in their city.
‘Prioritising healthier patients with short-term care needs over those who are more vulnerable is not what the NHS is about, nor should it ever be something we support.’
He added: ‘GPs have always been at the forefront of new technology – and practices want to be able to use more of it – but we rely on CCGs and NHS England to provide the funding to make that happen.
‘Without this investment, private companies like Babylon have been able to take advantage of our depleted healthcare system, threatening traditional place-based care.’
Digital services should be developed in integrated way
Londonwide LMCs chief executive officer Dr Michelle Drage said: ‘Digital services should be developed in an integrated way, alongside other services within existing practices so that they are there to be used if required.
‘Evidence shows that primary care is best delivered by expert generalists working with registered lists in defined geographic communities. The core funding that allows and supports this care delivery at individual and population level must be maintained and, where possible, increased.’
An NHS Manchester CCGs spokesperson said: ‘This week, we were informed by Babylon Health that they intend to begin operating in Manchester from early 2020.
‘Whenever any new provider of health and care services plans to come into the city, our priority is to ensure that their services are high quality, meet the needs of local people, and contribute to the financial and clinical sustainability of the health and care system in the city.
‘We will consider Babylon Health’s proposal within this context and expect to have further discussions with them, and health and care colleagues across the city, over the coming weeks.’
Pulse reported last week that Babylon will be required to set up local practices and hold separate contracts with commissioners where it registers more than 1,000 out-of-area patients in a CCG, following changes made by NHS England that will be brought in from April 2020.
This article was first published by our sister publication Pulse